My German paperback Fundamentalism was published in the ‘compact’ series (Publisher: SCM Hänssler). In that book I allow myself, as a sociologist of religion, to throw my definition of fundamentalism into the ring. In my opinion one should only refer to fundamentalism if violence is involved or when a true danger for domestic safety exists.

Since the September 11, 2001 attacks fundamentalism is mostly understood among the general public to be radical, violence prone, religiously motivated extremists or simply religious terrorists. What in the vernacular is meant by ‘fundamentalism’ is a militant claim to truth and precisely that is what I find to be the shortest definition.

In my opinion there are only two possibilities open to saving the term ‘fundamentalism’ for legitimate usage: either bring the term fundamentalism closer to how it is used in everyday language and relate it to truly near-violent movements. Alternatively, applying the term widely to all movements could be desirable, in which case the term is in desperate need of being de-emotionalized so that it achieves a neutral, non-pejorative meaning. For this to be achieved there has to be large scale action requiring experts who oppose the mass media, which at the moment is an illusion.

In my opinion those who warn the public about fundamentalist movements should limit themselves to those groups who are dangerous due to the principal justification they offer for the use of violence, or who demonstrate an inclination towards violence, or who even use violence, and lastly those from whom the danger at least emanates that they might want to achieve political power over dissenters by the use of undemocratic means. For that reason my definition in the book which is soon to be released is as follows:

Fundamentalism is a militant truth claim which derives its claim to power from non-disputable, higher revelation, people, values, or ideologies. It is aimed against religious freedom and peace offers and justifies, urges, or uses non-state or state-based non-democratic force in order to accomplish its goals. In the process it often invokes opposition to certain achievements of modernity in favor of historical grandeur and bygone eras, and at the same time uses these modern achievements mostly in order to extend and produce a modern variation of older religions and world views. Fundamentalism is a transformation of a religion or world view conditioned by modernity.

 

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